Fat is found in almost all foods due to it being an important part of the cell structure of all plant and animal tissue. However, plants do not store energy as fat (except in nuts), therefore their fat content is very low. Animals do store fat in their body for energy and this can be found in adipose tissue around vital organs, under the skin and in muscle fibre. There are two types of fat stored in the body:
White Adipose Tissue: White adipose tissue serves three major functions: heat insulation, mechanical cushion, and most importantly, a source of energy (provides 80,000-100,000 kcals of energy compared to muscle 2,500-2,800 kcals). It is also an important storage site for the fat-soluble vitamins A,D, E & K.
Brown Adipose Tissue: Is only important in very young children exposed to conditions that stimulate cold-induced thermogenesis (the body's response to cold-exposure).
Fat contains more than twice as much energy as carbohydrates (9 kcals/gram compared to 4 kcals/gram). So why not eat more fat ? Firstly, fatty food increases the risk of cardiovascular heart disease and obesity. Also, evidence shows that the rate of energy produced from fat is slower than for carbohydrate (CHO) and that muscle glycogen is the most important substrate for energy production in soccer (the use of fats is most pronounced during the last 15 minutes of a game). Lower exercise intensities will use more fat for energy and higher intensities will use more CHO. As football involves much high intensity work, this shows the importance of CHO stores which can be increased with training, although, a well-trained individual can use more of (and mobilise them quicker) their fat stores sparing CHO for periods of high-intensity exercise.
Fats in food exist under two major forms:
Saturated: Are solid at room temperature, e.g. butter, margarine, fat on meat..
Unsaturated: Are liquid or soft at room temperature, e.g. margarine, vegetable oil and fat in fish...
Only about 25% of a player's diet should be fat. However, studies have shown that players (even in professional soccer) consume much more fat than is necessary. Unsaturated fats are vital to our body's needs and help lower the amount of cholesterol (linked to cardiovascular disease) in the blood. It is important to reduce our fat intake by replacing fatty food with products containing lower fat. Due to fat being present in many foods, it is difficult to avoid. However, the table below suggests various ways of avoiding high-fat products:
Essential fatty acids (EFA) are polyunsaturated fats and must be part of our diet. They cannot be made by the body but are needed for normal growth and metabolism. 1 to 2 percent of your calories should from EFA. The two most common EFA are called linoleic and linolenic acids and are essential constituents of nerve tissue. Both are found in vegetable oils.
In general, it preferable for soccer players to eat high-carbohydrate, low fat foods. They should be informed of the health risks of fat in their diet and to be careful of what their food contains, especially for players suffering from weight problems. It is also worth mentioning the importance of cutting fat intake when out of season or injured. It may be useful for coaches to measure body fat (estimated using skin calipers) for comparisons throughout the year.
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